A little heat from Spain
Paprika is commonly used for its ruddy color rather than for its taste. Now, however, intensely flavored varieties from Spain are arriving in markets here. Their effect on dishes goes beyond cosmetic: They impart distinct flavors, from sweet to hot to smoky.
The velvety red powder, made from finely ground dried peppers, mirrors the character of the pepper used. The drying method also affects the paprika’s flavor. Peppers dried in the sun maintain a pure, natural essence; those dried over a wood fire take on complex, smoky overtones. Choose a paprika from our guide below to make classic Spanish romesco sauce. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to a wide range of foods; we love it on pork chops. You can also use Spanish paprikas as you would generic paprika, but expect more intense flavor.
There are three types of Spanish paprika available ― sweet, bittersweet, and hot ― and each comes in sun-dried and smoked forms.
Sweet paprika (pimentón dulce). Earthy and mild.
Bittersweet paprika (pimentón agridulce). Rich, complex, and slightly smoky.
Hot paprika (pimentón picante). Medium-hot but slightly sweet.
In our testing, we found that the romescos made with sun-dried paprikas paired well with light foods: raw vegetables, grilled green onions, roasted potatoes, eggs, shrimp, halibut, salmon, chicken, and pork.
The versions made with smoked paprikas, while also good with the above, tasted even better with hearty, robust fare: beef, lamb, and grilled mushrooms. For smoked paprika, look for pimentón de La Vera, made from peppers grown in western Spain.
Spanish paprikas are available at specialty markets and from Spanish Table (Berkeley, 510/548-1383; Santa Fe, 505/986-0243; Seattle, 206/682-2827) and Tienda (888/472-1022).